While Veterans Day is observed annually on Nov. 11 to honor and express gratitude to those who have served in the armed forces, the appreciation for veterans extends beyond this designated day. Boise State University’s cyber operations and resilience program has embraced numerous veterans, whether they come with prior cybersecurity experience or are entering the program as cybersecurity novices.
Remarkably, the program has witnessed these individuals excel, showcasing their proficiency in security and technical aspects. The success of these veterans underscores their suitability for critical roles in cybersecurity, attributed to their composure, discipline and problem-solving abilities acquired during their military service. Ashleigh Sequeira, a veteran, cybersecurity practitioner, cyber operations and resilience program alumnus and adjunct instructor, emphasizes, “Veterans transition well because of the mindset required to operate in high-stress spaces.” This natural progression from the military to cybersecurity highlights their adaptability and aptitude in this demanding field.
The Unconventional Journey to Academia and a Career
In the United States, the conventional educational trajectory often involves high school graduates proceeding directly to a four-year university or community college to pursue their chosen careers. However, for veterans like Jacorious “Jay” Smith (undergraduate) and Nick Burns (graduate) in the cyber operations and resilience program, this standard path did not apply.
Burns humorously recalls enlisting in the Marine Corps just a month after high school graduation, admitting, “To be honest, I didn’t have my life prioritized after high school, and I only lasted twenty minutes in college.”
Smith shares a similar sentiment, explaining that his lack of direction after high school led him to join the Air Force. Serving for six and 15 years, respectively, Smith focused on bioenvironmental engineering, ensuring industrial hygiene and compliance, while Burns worked in logistics, coordinating transportation across the globe. Their decision to transition to cybersecurity marked a significant shift in their career paths.
The Leap From Military Service to Cybersecurity
Contrary to the traditional four-year academic route, Smith and Burns demonstrate that success can be achieved through alternative pathways. Smith acknowledges the invaluable skills he gained in the military, which influenced his decision to pursue a career in information technology (IT) and cybersecurity.
His participation in the Air Force’s Skilled Bridge Program equipped him with computer and technology skills, facilitating a smoother transition into the cyber program. Burns, on the other hand, took time after his honorable discharge to explore various academic pursuits before discovering the cyber program. Initially intimidated by cybersecurity, he found reassurance in discussions with Sin Ming Loo, the cyber operations and resilience program director, and decided to embrace this new challenge.
Transferrable Skills in Cybersecurity
Despite the apparent disparity between bioenvironmental engineering, transportation logistics and cybersecurity, Burns and Smith emphasize the bridge created by their military experiences. Smith attributes his organizational and soft skills, honed in the Air Force, to his ability to network and build connections. Burns, recalling the mantra, “do more with less,” from his time in the Middle East, underscores the importance of a calm and disciplined mindset in navigating the challenges of cybersecurity.
Job Security in Cybersecurity for Veterans
As career opportunities in cybersecurity continue to outpace the number of applicants, Smith and Burns express confidence in their career prospects. Burns, in the early stages of his journey, is exploring various facets of cybersecurity, with a keen interest in cyber warfare and digital and signal intelligence. Smith, having obtained his Network+ certification, is interning as an IT help desk intern and cybersecurity analyst intern, aiming to become a cloud security engineer.
Their success is attributed to determination and support. Smith advocates for military personnel to explore bridge programs well in advance, emphasizing the importance of shadowing IT roles while still in the service. Burns commends the support from classmates and faculty, highlighting the responsiveness of instructors to student needs.
Boise State’s cyber operations and resilience program, recognized as one of the best online programs for veterans in 2023 by U.S. News and World Report, offers numerous benefits for veterans looking to transition into cybersecurity.